Keeping the hounds at bay using ‘fast facts’

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The question of what and what not to say is a recurring dilemma for organisations that find themselves in the glare of the media spotlight during a crisis.

Inevitably, when a crisis strikes, an information gap – i.e. the deficit between the amount of information demanded by the media and the amount of information available – quickly develops.

In the absence of verified facts, this gap will invariably begin to be filled with unhelpful speculation and misinformation; the voice of the organisation in crisis becoming drowned out by the usual roll call of subject specialists, NGO campaigners or even commercial competitors – each with a separate, potentially conflicting agenda to promote.

In this situation, communication can give rise to a number of challenges and difficult judgment calls. Say too much and you could find yourself facing accusations of spreading misinformation and/or showing insensitivity. Say too little and you risk being seen as inactive or even evasive.

But what can you say to help fill the information gap and ensure that your voice remains heard?

Well, strong messaging demonstrating compassion for those impacted by what has happened, as well as competence in being able to resolve the situation, is a must of course, but will only take you so far.

Fast facts will help you keep the lines of communication with key stakeholders open, whilst ensuring you don’t inadvertently stray too far from the approved script.

So, what are fast facts?

Fast facts could be just fairly generic corporate background information, including:

  • number of employees
  • when the company was founded
  • territories in which the company operates
  • details of subsidiary brands that fall within the wider group etc.

Alternatively, they can be more asset/scenario specific. If we use the example of a company that has been the victim of a data breach, then fast facts might include:

  • key points from the company’s data security policy, including when it was introduced
  • details of resilience protocols that the company has in place (without giving too much away obviously…) to protect customers
  • details of any official accreditation/awards that the company has been awarded in the past in recognition of its performance in the area of data security.

The basic idea is to give the media a little more to chew on, and to help position the organisation as an authoritative, go-to source – especially in the initial stages of a crisis when hard facts are scarce.

Rather than being forced to repeatedly respond to frustrated journalists with phrases such as “I’m sorry, that’s all the information we have at the moment”, fast facts provide press officers and digital responders with a valuable information supplement of sorts.

As a result, having given out the latest known information on the situation, responders will be in a position to say: “that’s all the information we have on the situation as things stand – we’ll be making more information available once the facts become known. In the meantime, I’d be happy to provide you with a little more background information on the company/our data security/supply chain/safety procedures…”

In a crisis, the choice is not ‘to communicate or not to communicate?’ It is ‘what can and should we say, when and to whom?’ What you can say is constrained by what is known at any given time, and this scarcity of information – if it contributes to altering perceptions and behaviour towards the organisations – can do lasting damage to its reputation and bottom line. Fast facts help to bridge the information gap and, as such, are an invaluable communication tool for front line crisis responders.